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Plucking Technique

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by XcgsdV, May 15, 2018.

  1. XcgsdV


    May 15, 2018
    Alright, so I started playing bass a just a while ago, after coming from ukulele. I tried to find someone else who asked a similar question to this one, but I couldn't. Basically, I pluck with 3 fingers, my index, middle, and thumb, using the thumb only when I need to jump down to either the A or E string for just one or two notes. I was wondering if this is alright, or if I should break the happen now. If it matters for any reason, I play left-handed
    JeffC23 likes this.
  2. The basic answer is “whatever works best for you” and that is the type of answer you will probably receive the most. My only question is, what is the thumb doing prior to coming into play? Is it anchored somewhere? Is it floating across the strings as you move to higher strings? The only constraint I can think of is if it has to travel a large distance to come into play (taking extra time, and therefore being inefficient), or if it is coming from a variable location (making bringing it into play at the right string imprecise).

    If neither of these are a problem, then I see no problem with your technique.
    BooDoggie and 7dollarbologna like this.
  3. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    A fingerpicking approach is not common or traditionally seen, but if you get useable tone, and you are the final arbiter on that, then go for it. On the other hand, in your early years the the bass, I would encourage you to also explore the more orthodox approaches as well. IME the more techniques you have at your disposal the better.
  4. I two do not see the need for the thumb. Normally our thumb is an anchor point and we sound notes with as many of the "other" fingers as needed.

    Sir Paul is left handed and this video may help you see how a left handed person may play their bass.

    Paul Mccartery, bass lesson - Bing video

    Notice he uses his thumb to sound the note. I use this method on my right handed bass. A carry over from rhythm guitar..... So, we can use fingers, pick, or thumb and then there is slap, but, let's not go there just now...

    Good luck.
    Last edited: May 16, 2018
  5. I like the advice given here. On the other hand, I'm of the mind that in a world where everything is becoming homogenized/sounds the same, etc, I'm really into the idea of people doing things differently. As long as you can do the job and play the way you and your potential bandmates like, then I would keep doing what you are doing.
    ThumbBum likes this.
  6. ThudThudThud


    Jun 4, 2010
    It's been working well for Sting for some time with that technique. I use it occasionally, depending on the part I'm playing.
  7. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    Two fingers, three fingers, two fingers and the thumb, thumb only, plectrum, slapping, etc...a good bass player should know how and when to do each in order to make a song sound right.
    40Hz, lowplaces, Element Zero and 2 others like this.
  8. Nothing wrong with using your thumb to pluck, but, if you can learn to pluck with just your fingers, that frees up your thumb for muting the unplayed strings.
  9. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011
    Most finger style players use index and middle. Even using just these two fingers, it can take a bit of time and practice to play with even tone and attack. I believe achieving even tone with thumb and fingers would be challenging as the angle of attack is different and this changes the tone. Sometimes it's nice to mute the strings softly with the palm of the hand and pluck with the thumb for more of a thuddy string bass sound.

    I sometimes bring in the ring finger with finger style...but my ring finger does not have the independence and endurance of the other two. Some players use their fingers to strike the strings percussively. This sounds somewhat likes using a heavy pick. Often this is done with just down strokes, but up strokes work as well.

    With slap style, the thumb can be used to slap the string or to pluck up and down (double thumb), and you can also use index, middle, and ring to pull up and snap the strings.

    IMHO, use your fingers and hands however you want to extract the sounds you desire.

    Obviously there is a lot of different techniques available. As you already are comfortable using your thumb, I don't see any reason to stop. But it is likely you will need to consider when it makes sense to use the thumb and when it makes sense to leave it out. Likewise there may be times when it is better to play with the thumb and leave out the index and middle finger. Perhaps an instructor cab help...if not, then there are plenty of videos on YouTube.

    Welcome to TalkBass.
  10. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    As usual, @Mushroo has it right. I don't know how important it is to mute unplayed strings on a uke, but it's absolutely essential on bass. Given your current way of playing, you might find it relatively easy to adapt to this technique:

    David A. Davis likes this.
  11. dheafey

    dheafey Supporting Member

    Jul 22, 2012
    Remco Hendrix is one of the funkiest guys around and he uses his thumb to pluck (not slap) constantly. Check out this video for a peek into his technique:

    Element Zero and Wasnex like this.
  12. XcgsdV


    May 15, 2018
    Most of the time when the thumb isn't playing, I either anchor it on the pickup (if I'm playing on the E-string) or use it to mute open strings
  13. arbiterusa


    Sep 24, 2015
    San Diego, CA
    I learned the basics from my dad, who is a banjo player. So I ended up playing clawhammer like a banjo player. Use the thumb a lot, no muting issues (usually use the back of my palm or my fretting hand). I don't think you're going to have a problem. Are there better ways? Assuredly. I just don't know them, lol.
    MuffledBoomy and Wasnex like this.
  14. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    I use my thumb for 2 things:

    Often it's resting on the lowest string (I'm a 4 string player). In certain circumstances, I'll use my thumb to sound the lowest string - It's already there, all I need to do is move it a bit. Most of the time, I'm just 2 fingers, but when the lowest string doesn't need (or want) too much attack, the thumb works well.

    I'll also use it on other strings when I want a soft attack - my fingers have really hard callouses, and the thumb works better sometimes for soft stuff. But I can't use it too much, or I'll develop hard callouses on it, and then it no longer does what I need it to. That's my technique. If you watch Victor Wooten, he uses it on up and down strokes - a double thumb approach; he gets lots of mileage from that. If I did that, again, it wouldn't work for me - I'd lose that part of my technique.

    So, the answer is: find out what works (and doesn't for you). Develop your own technique - develop what works for you so it works really well for you.
    mikewalker likes this.
  15. red_rhino

    red_rhino Gold Supporting Member

    I've actually started to incorporate my thumb into my playing over the last couple of years. I was mostly a traditional fingerstyle player, occasionally used a pick as needed. But playing mostly by myself over that last couple of years I've started to investigate other approaches, partly out of boredom, and partly because it gives me new ways of looking at my instrument. It was a good change.
    Element Zero likes this.
  16. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011
    Thumb, Index, Middle works really well for this sound and type of line. I use this approach for similar lines as well. Probably not so much for a fast Tower of Power funk line.

    Last edited: May 16, 2018
  17. mikewalker

    mikewalker Supporting Member

    Jul 30, 2017
    Canada, Eh!
    Looks like Paul forgot to remove his tyvek bracelets when he escaped from The Hospital.

    "Band on The Run", indeed! :)
  18. There's lots of people who have been playing for years and are just now adding their thumb to the index and middle fingers.... (cough) So... RAWK ON, BROTHA ...

    As I used to tell my drum students, " there's plenty of guys out there making lots of money doing it the 'wrong' way, so do what works for you!"
  19. chaosMK


    May 26, 2005
    Albuquerque, NM
    Hi-fi into an old tube amp
    I use a similar technique but mainly for higher speed br00tal oriented applications where I use T-R-M-I or T-M-I, with the thumb being a slap (for a more percussive accent/downbeat on 16th notes, triplet, other patterns). Happen to have an example. On each pattern for this particular rhythm I use my thumb 5 times.

    Last edited: May 16, 2018
  20. Member8675309

    Member8675309 Banned

    Aug 19, 2017
    Nashville, TN
    I play acoustic guitar as a secondary instrument, so I’ve tried finger-picking the bass more than once. I find it to be a usable approach for low volume numbers that require some finesse in touch. I think this is especially useful with highly responsive basses such as this new Gretsch 5440 I picked up.

    I’d keep it up. It’s just another technique you can use in addition to your traditional methods. Heck, learn to use a pick, too. I recommend leather. And, as always, I do not recommend slapping.
    SteveCS likes this.

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